The third oldest of 10 children, Skyline High School freshman Sariah Harrison has had her share of following and leading.
She credits her older siblings for setting positive examples and introducing her to passions worth pursuing. When older sister and Skyline junior, Elizabeth, traded ballet for running at a young age, Sariah did the same. It also helped that the sisters had the same friends, all of whom encouraged Sariah to take up cross-country.
“They started doing cross-country and said, ‘You have to do cross-country. It’s great,” she said. “I was really excited to go into high school because I was gonna be with my buddies again.”
She not only rejoined her friends this fall, but blazed a trail.
Harrison made her high school debut with top-three finishes at every meet through state (including five wins) and became Skyline’s lead girl in a season of top-three team finishes. She ran five sub-19 minute times, and her personal bests of 18:34.7 (high school season) and 18:31.1 (Nike Cross Regionals Northwest) are among Idaho’s top 20 fastest girls times for any classification per athletic.net. Ten days after becoming Skyline’s first female district champion since current Skyline assistant coach and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier Erica Wendt Richardson in 2004, she finished second at state to tie a program best individual finish for a Skyline girl and lead the Grizzlies to their first girls cross-country state title.
For making her own history in a record season for Skyline, Harrison is the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Cross-Country Runner of the Year.
Sugar-Salem head coach Brett Hill described Harrison as no ordinary freshman. Hill said only Idaho Falls’s Christine Kohler and Firth’s Lacey Holder had freshman seasons comparable to Harrison in his 20-plus years of coaching, but to his knowledge, neither broke 19 minutes as much as Harrison.
“I loved how she ran,” Hill said. “She ran kamikaze right from the start. She just basically redlined her motor all the way.”
Harrison’s historic feats went beyond her district and state finishes. Upon checking school records started by his predecessor DeLoy Roberts, Skyline head coach Sean Schmidt learned that Harrison’s best times this season are the fastest by any Skyline girl for a 5k course.
Schmidt said Harrison is an intense, yet level-headed athlete and a good teammate.
“She wants to do her best every time she gets out there,” Schmidt said. “Even in practice, she doesn’t like to slack off. She doesn’t exclude her teammates either. She encourages them and wants them to do well.”
Running was in Harrison’s blood long before her first cross-country race. Her father Alan’s siblings are accomplished runners, and the Harrison grandchildren don’t visit their grandparents without packing running clothes. Having never lost an elementary school race, Harrison said she was a little nervous about middle school.
“The toughest transition into middle school was knowing some boys were gonna beat me,” Harrison said.
She flourished in middle school, placing third or better in seventh grade and going undefeated in eighth grade. High school brought longer distances (5,000 meters versus middle races which range from 2,200 to 3,200 meters) and uncertainty of how her times would compare to her teammates. Those concerns were replaced with motivation when she won Skyline’s first meet, the Bronco Classic in Blackfoot.
“After my first race, I was like, ‘Hey, that wasn’t so long,’” Harrison said. “I’d get in the races and I always wanted to beat my times. I just think, ‘I haven’t come this far and hurt this much to not finish strong.”
Harrison was also motivated by the 2016 season which ended with the 4A state title for Skyline’s boys and medals for girls individual competitors Macy Olson, Breanne Herrmann and Adria Roberts. Even as success came this fall, Harrison and Schmidt said they did not expect to win the state title. The Grizzlies knew defending state champion Twin Falls was favored to repeat, and Schmidt said Skyline would “have to run extremely well” to have a chance to beat the Bruins at Eagle Island State Park.
As anticipated, the 4A girls race was too close to call at the finish. Harrison was congratulating other runners when Richardson showed her the official live-timing results on her phone. With four top-10 finishes to two by Twin Falls, Skyline had won 54-58.
By the time Harrison found her teammates, they were all crying and embracing.
“I was a frantic mess,” Harrison said. “I knew knew we’d be good, but I didn’t think we’d be this good. It was really fun to come together as a team.”
Harrison aspires to continue progressing, and not just in cross-country. She is working to graduate in three years, and she credits her coaches and family for supporting her. She said she wouldn’t be who she is without them, or running.
“These high school years are gonna go by so fast,” Harrison said. “Growing up and becoming the person I’m gonna be, I want to be the best that I can be.”